#51 - Mike Moran's Commentary
Mike Moran’s Sports Commentary
March 22, 2012 The USOC, A Gift That Keeps On Giving
When it was announced yesterday that the superb Colorado Springs World Arena Ice Hall has been named as one of a handful of venues in the nation to earn distinction as a United States Olympic Committee Official Olympic Training Site, the one for figure skating, the historic bond between the city and the USOC, now in its 35th year, was forged with even more steel.
It’s the latest chapter in a book to be completed in the future by someone about a relationship that began in 1977, endured a series of jolts and bruises, and made the city at the foot of Pikes Peak a household word in the minds of millions of Americans who love the stories of athletes who chase and realize a dream like no other in sport.
America’s Olympic City began its journey in unusual circumstances.
In 1977, Colorado Springs had wooed the USOC after only one other, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had formally recruited the historic organization, created in 1894, when it sought a new home after the 1976 Games in Montreal.
That move was made official on a blustery winter’s day in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, when a group of civic and business leaders from Colorado Springs made a successful pitch to the USOC Board on behalf of the city to relocate from New York to the Rockies. The USOC had done its business at 57 Park Avenue in New York for decades, but the world was changing and it needed space and a new face.
The group had made the trek to Wisconsin on a Royal Canadian Air Force transport, recruited when commercial traffic had been shut down in Colorado Springs because of a major snowstorm. Former USOC Vice President Bill Tutt got the plane, and he was joined by Gordon Culver, Chairman of the Colorado Springs Industrial Foundation, public relations executive Nechie Hall, Mayor Larry Ochs, Dr. Evie G. Dennis of Denver, Shelby Dill of the Chamber of Commerce, business leader Ryer Hitchcock and the Commander of Fort Carson.
Culver made the presentation, which included an offer of the 34-acre former ENT Air Force Base/Norad Headquarters facility, $1 million from the El Pomar Foundation, and the only thing that the USOC would be responsible for would be property and other taxes.
The USOC Board bought it, and Colorado Springs, not knowing what it would really be gaining, found itself with a small, struggling organization that would grow, prosper and become the most powerful and influential National Olympic Committee in the world.
It was made official when El Pomar’s Bill Hybl presented a $1 million check to USOC Executive Director Col. F. Don Miller at The Broadmoor. Hybl would become President of the USOC twice, steer the organization through a pair of crises, and become its President Emeritus, an IOC member, and the power behind the city’s commitment to the Committee. He is still the Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Foundation.
The Olympic Training Center opened its doors in 1977 with Olympic hero Bob Mathias as its first director, and the first USOC inhabitants of the former headquarters building of the North American Defense Command arrived in Colorado Springs on August 1, 1978 to establish the city as the USOC’s national headquarters.
As the years passed, the unimposing structure welcomed IOC Presidents Lord Killanin, Juan Antonio Samaranch and Jacques Rogge, President Ronald Reagan, Olympic legends like Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, Donna de Varona, Willye White, Willie Davenport, Bonnie Blair, Micki King, Billy Mills, Bob Richards, sport leaders from the old enemy, the USSR, diplomats, governors, mayors, princes and the most powerful leaders of American business and the vital Olympic sponsors.
In the executive office at the southwest corner on the second floor, respected and capable USOC leaders met, talked and made decisions that shaped the future for America’s Olympic Teams and the galaxy of stars that would represent the United States at the Games.
The structure almost went dark in the days after the horrendous American boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, when the USOC was bankrupted by the decision forced on it by the Carter Administration. But it basked in the sunshine of the first Golden Era of the USOC from 1985-2000, when it became a thriving, financially-sound and acclaimed body. In its myriad of small offices and cramped meeting rooms, decisions were made that garnered billions of dollars to support America’s athletes and successfully pursued Games that would come to Los Angeles, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.
It’s not a secret to those who know that there have been attempts over time by some within the volunteer leadership of the USOC, men who don’t live in Colorado Springs, to create an effort to move the organization elsewhere.These individuals, gone now from the circles of power, imagined a USOC and an Olympic House in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, New York and Denver, but their efforts were stymied by loyal staff and Colorado Springs leaders who knew that this city was the best place to be, the only city that had welcomed the USOC when nobody else would.
Now, the USOC has committed to Colorado Springs for at least the next 30 years and enjoys a superb new downtown headquarters to do its worldwide business. The Olympic Training Center is undergoing magnificent improvements to its athlete facilities and will also provide a rich new experience for thousands of visitors to the city and its populace.
It has a chief executive, Scott Blackmun, who has lived in the city for almost all of the last three decades and raised his family here. He has made the USOC reach out to the city in countless ways to extend its gratitude for the warm embrace it receives.
The USOC has staged high profile events in the city under Blackmun’s direction that have brought prestige and economic impact, like the annual U.S. Olympic Assembly, the Warrior Games, and the IOC International Athletes Forum. The USOC staff has landed spots on the boards of substantial civic and business organizations or charities such as Alicia McConnell, the USOC’s Director of Athlete Services, who is the Chairman of the Board of Experience Colorado Springs, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau.
The USOC and its family of affiliated governing bodies now generate a yearly economic impact of over $215 million and employ over 2,100 people in the city.
And, it has a new strong mayor, Steve Bach, who admires what the Olympic presence means to the city and what it represents.
“I’m here today representing almost a half a million people, the citizens of the city of Colorado Springs, and I just want to tell you how proud we are to be the home of the United States Olympic Committee,” Colorado Springs,” Bach said at the announcement yesterday. “They bring great prestige to our community and they do so much, really, behind the scenes to help our city.”
So now, Colorado Springs, the hometown of the USOC and a place where more than 350,000 athletes have lived, trained and chased their Olympic or Paralympic Dreams since 1977, adds another jewel to its crown with the designation of the World Arena Ice Hall as an official training site for figure skating.
The city’s sports-minded citizens have a series of great events coming up to be part of the Road to London and the 2012 Olympic Games in a big way.
On Friday, May 18, the Colorado Springs Sports Corp will present its Second Annual Salute to the Olympic Family Luncheon at the Doubletree by Hilton, with Olympic basketball great Teresa Edwards (the USOC’s chief of mission for the American delegation in London) as the guest celebrity. It’s a pat on the back for the USOC and the National Governing Bodies who are preparing the best athletes in the nation for their chance at Olympic and Paralympic Glory in the UK, as well as special recognition by the community for being solid partners in the city’s quality of life.
And on Friday evening, July 27, thousands will have a chance to head downtown to celebrate the Opening Ceremony in London, televised on big screen television and the highlight of a full day community celebration to honor America’s athletes and the Colorado Springs Olympic family.
It’s important to note that this is not happening anywhere else in America.
Only in Colorado Springs.